Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: "Microscripts" by Robert Walser

If you have read my posts about what I have had to say about Robert Walser throughout the past year, you could tell that I praise him as being an underrated genius that falls under the same class as Franz Kafka, who became far more notable after his death. Jakob von Gunten made it to #2 on my list of my five favorite reads from last year and I beseech that if you have not read his work, then I highly suggest it. For now, I would say to pick up and read Jakob von Gunten, because Microscripts will test your patience with regard to asking a question regarding whether or not this really tells a story. Microscripts bears a brilliance in its own right, in the way that it is the ant-sized, cryptic writings that Walser wrote from the late 20s and into his days in a sanatorium that he entered by the turn of the decade. He was placed in this environment, for his sister deemed him to be schizophrenic, and he would live this way for the remainder of his life. Walser was institutionalized in 1933, none of his writings from this period of time are in existence, if any existed in the first place. This was, perhaps, the time that Walser declared that his purpose of being in an institution was "not to write, but to be crazy."

Microscripts is what we could deem as being the gateway to Walser's existential, purposeless, but brilliant mind. We do not really get a sense of his personal struggles in these pieces, as if he was submitting to a diary, but we instead explore random moments that pop up here and there. Walser wrote these submissions on scraps of paper, on the backs of book pages, and in so many other bizarre places. Just about every one of these submissions is shown in its original format, coming off as if it was in some kind of code. At the same time, what he has to say is so genuine that it would be impossible for me to confirm what ever I say on here today. On my first impression, I got his wit with what he had to say, but it did not strike home the way Jakob von Gunten did. On the other hand, there is a lot that can be said about what he has to express through his writing.

The pieces that stuck out to me the most were the ones he wrote about the radio and the train station. Both of these were relatively current for his period of time, especially that of the radio since the submission was written in the 1920s, where the radio was relatively new. Walser saw the radio as being something out of the ordinary, but he found bits of ridicule that came about with its presence. He finds it peculiar that radios interrupt the interaction that one may have with one another and how more attention is paid to a subject likely to be a distance away when there is a necessary subject right within your view that can be seen, heard, and felt. If what Walser is saying here is extraordinary, then what he would have to say about today and its technology would be light years beyond the realm of brilliance. His commentary on the train station views a different kind of fascination. While trains were around decades before radios, the fascination of what they look like, the "whisking" of people, the endless destinations, and what makes up a station brought immense curiosity to Walser regarding the world around him.

Of course, Walser wrote his pieces as unedited thoughts, thus a lot of information that did not relate to the designated subject was bound to pop up. In fact, many of these submissions did not even have titles. The solution to this: go the "Emily Dickinson route" and use the first line to create the title. Aside from those I mentioned, Walser wrote about marriage, autumn, schnapps, new years, as well as details about how he transitioned from writing in pen to writing in pencil that provided some insight to his cryptic sketches.

In all honesty, this book was a challenge to grasp. The group of people that will enjoy and get the most out of this batch of writings is the group that is familiar with Walser and/or is familiar with a writer who was deemed to have a mental condition. I would say 98% would fall under the former category, which would be why I highly suggest reading one of his novels or other works of fiction (for me, Jakob von Gunten was my only other read from Walser) before reading Microscripts. In fact, it may serve you well to read multiple works before arriving at this one. The writing is not necessarily entertaining, but it is sure to fascinate on the contingency that he mentions something that sparks your interest. As written prose, I would say it is decent. While it would be easy to be biased, I feel there is no need to do so, and at $25, I would highly suggest not starting your experience with Walser at Microscripts. It explores miniscule details that include painted pictures of key images, such as him lying dead face up in the snow, since he died on Christmas Day in 1955 while taking a walk.

The most important thing about becoming an enthusiast for a particular author is to read their fiction to determine whether or not you enjoy them. Then read some intense works that fill you with their background information. If you want background information quickly, look them up online. In Walser's case, read his fiction and then buy Microscripts. Even at $25, it will be a call that should be made before a purchase. Of course, there were things I could appreciate about it, so I was enlightened a bit more. I am sure that there will also be areas to which people will be enlightened or intrigued that are different from mine, greater, fewer, throughout, or nowhere at all.

Simply put, the enthusiast in me recommends this, but I logically felt that it was one step above being okay.

Verdict: 7/10

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